Are African-Americans more homophobic than other identity groups? Last summer, President Obama stated publically that he supported gay marriage. Many feared this pronouncement would erode his support in the black community.
According to a recent Pew Poll, 49 percent of blacks opposed gay marriage in 2012, while 67 percent disapproved in 2008. Forty-three percent of whites and all other Americans oppose such marriages. There is only a slight statistical difference between Blacks and other populations, so why all the controversy?
Maybe it’s because black homophobia gets ample attention in the media. CNN anchor Don Lemon recently charged, “Being a black, gay male is the worst thing to be in the African-American community.”
Black churches also used the bully pulpit during the past election cycle to denounce Obama’s remarks even as a gay sex scandal erupted at Bishop Eddie Long’s Atlanta-based amphitheater-sized church. Bishop Long, an outspoken black anti-gay pastor, is accused of luring several boys into sexual relationships through his LongFellows Youth Academy.
Conjecture as to why homophobia appears common in the black community considers a number of factors. Some black churches opt for a literal interpretation of the Bible and can point to verses that clearly decry homosexuality as a sin.
Other theorists point to slavery as the responsible factor. In a Grio article, author David Love states: “Black men watched as their fathers, sons, uncles, cousins, and friends were castrated, whipped, raped, beaten, and ‘drawn and quartered.’ Often to ‘break’ black men and bend them to the will of white people,” Love contends that this is the reason that machismo has historically been highly valued among black people, and homosexuality viewed as a threat to black masculinity.
Then too, there is the fact that prison rape experiences get integrated into perceptions about homosexuality. According to the Bureau of Statistics, one in 15 black men is currently in prison. Many come home infected with HIV and spread it to girls and women in the black community.
The CDC reports that in 2009, African Americans comprised 14 percent of the US population but accounted for 44 percent of all new HIV infections. Young black gay and bisexual men are especially at risk of HIV infection.
Homophobia is based in fear, and the black community is given many reasons to fear homosexuality. Yet black homophobia is on the decline. Here’s to continued courage in the black community to confront this fear head on, and defeat it.